The Patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, Mar Louis Raphaël ISakohas said that a pastoral visit to Iraq by Pope Francis would be an encouragement for what’s left of the Christian community as well as a call for every Iraqi citizen to “open up, to build trust and peace.”

This came after Pope Francis Feb. 3-5 Apostolic Visit to the United Arab Emirates which the Patriarch described as a “seed for a possible papal visit to Iraq.”

“I think a papal visit to Iraq can be organized because the situation has improved and both Christians and Muslims are open,” Sako told Crux recently.

“Above all, we need a visit from the Holy Father,” Sako said Friday. “We have suffered a lot, as have the Christians in Syria.”

Over the past two decades, the Christian population of Iraq is believed to have gone from more than one million to fewer than 150,000, most of whom are living in the Nineveh Plains, which overlaps the border between Iraq and Kurdish-held territories.

Mentioned in the Bible, the Nineveh plains are a conglomerate of small villages, many of them historically Christian: Teleskof, Batnaya, Bartella, Karamles, Qaraqosh, and others.

With the help of Aid to the Church in Need and other charities, thousands of Christian families have been able to return after the region was liberated last October.

Though rebuilding the region and the Christian presence in cities such as Mosul and Baghdad cannot wait for a papal visit, the attention it would bring would nevertheless help, Sako believes.

ACN Malta